By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS
Is anyone else as ready as I am to see those first flurries of fall come down? When the weather starts changing and ski swaps start becoming a regular weekly occurrence, I’m sure I’m not the only one that starts dreaming of powder days at the resort and in the backcountry. In fact, in the US alone, over 18 million people skied or snowboarded at least once during the 2011-2012 winter season, and with the rate of growth in those sports we can only assume that number has grown over the past couple of years.(1)
We all know the risks of skiing and snowboarding that are present, as it’s rare to come across someone who doesn’t have an “epic” yard-sale story. I’ll never forget the day last winter that I hit a patch of “brown snow” in the backcountry and completely went flying head over heels as my momentum had been completely halted due to the snow friction transition. Luckily, I just stood up, found my skis, and shook off the snow that had accumulated in my jacket to continue the rest of my journey down to the car and a warm drink. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky, and as PTs in a mountain town we tend to see our fair share of skiing and snowboarding injury aftermaths.
A recent study from The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine compared surveys that were taken at Big Sky Resort in Montana in 1996 and 2013 to see how the amounts and types of skiing and snowboarding injuries have evolved over time as the sports have become more and more popular.1 In 1996, 85% of the injured participants surveyed were skiers and this number dropped to 73% in 2013, showing that there were more injured snowboarders (possibly related to more snowboarders being on the hill).1 The average age of those being injured stayed 34 years old between the two time periods but, in general in the survey, injuries were occurring more often for those in the 46-55 year age group.1 Some great news is that the number of participants wearing a helmet jumped from only 6% in 1996 to 84% in 2013!1 It seems like people are wising up with helmet use in an effort to reduce their risk of head injury.
In terms of what body parts are more frequently injured in skiers, it looks like the knee still is the winning joint totaling to about 28% of all injuries both in the past and more recently.1 However, the proportion of shoulder and arm injuries increased significantly for both skiers and snowboarders, and those types of injuries continue to be the most common in snowboarders totaling 33% of all injuries in 2013.1 Also of note, the number of injured participants who had never received any professional instruction increased from 19% in 1996 to 30% in 2013, and the number of injuries that occurred while using rental equipment increased from 27% to 39% in the most recent survey.1 This suggests that more infrequent and novice skiers are the ones that are the most likely to be injured.
Granted, this is only based of surveys taken from one ski resort in the country. However, it is interesting to see the trends that have occurred over the years as these sports continue to evolve and grow in participation. Hopefully you will be one of the lucky ones that will avoid injury this coming snow season. However, if you do happen to be one of those folks that sustains an injury while out on the hill this year, know that you can count on a qualified group of physical therapists to get you back out as soon as possible to enjoy another powder day.
- Patrick E, Cooper JG, Daniels J. Changes in Skiing and Snowboarding Injury Epidemiology and Attitudes to Safety in Big Sky, Montana, USA: A Comparison of 2 Cross-sectional Studies in 1996 and 2013. Ortho Journal Sports Med. 2015;3(6). doi:10.1177/2325967115588280